Driving Cornwall, Walking London.

The blog has experienced a bit of suspension as I made a trip to England and France this month. I was the historian (color commentary) for the first Community on the Go trip abroad, an excursion to London, Normandy, and Paris to see the sites of Operation Overlord, the invasion of France during WWII.

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Other than these few pictures I’ll leave recounting the trip for another venue, but since this is a blog about a truck, there is room for automotive comment.

I took the opportunity to arrive a few days early, hired a car, and drove out to the end of Cornwall and the site of the family’s origin.

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The trusty steed, Audi.

I picked up a car at Heathrow International and had to adapt immediately to driving on the right side of the vehicle and left side of the road.  I talked to myself nearly constantly for three days, reminding myself to turn into the left lane, to look to the right at intersections, and to interpret road and street signs.

The drive from London across Devon and through Cornwall was spectacular, even if it was November. The landscape was livid green, the kind of green that North America gets only in spring.


Southwest along the M5, outside of Taunton

Once I got off the M4 and M5, the driving got positively interesting.  Google Maps is a great tool, but it doesn’t think “this is a ridiculously narrow, unmarked lane in the middle of nowhere” for you.  The plotted route eventually took me down farm roads through the hedgerow country that were, quite frankly, a little nerve wracking. The roads are narrow enough that I regularly drove with the shrubbery leaving wet traces down the side of the car and me worrying about the liability inherent in rental agreements. These are two-way roads in name only; the only way to drive them is to employ the car-length wide spots in these roads, the only points at which two vehicles can pass each other without a head-on collision.  I did that fairly frequently and occasionally backed up to the closest one after coming nose-to-nose with another driver.  My host said that proves I am not a local—locals just sit and stare at each other, waiting for the other to move back.

The towns were not much better. I guess that comes from having building sites laid out in the days when distance and speed was measured on a walking scale, well before automobiles could be even imagined. Now that we sit in our little wheeled boxes, the physical setting and needsi to see around the corners historic buildings makes for quite a challenge. The lack of walkways is unsettling, but then traffic is not heavy in St Keverne.

I made it through the countryside and even through urban driving in Plymouth.  THAT was an experience I won’t forget. I was busy enough driving on the right—er, correct—side of the road and juggling all the variables while trying to navigate that I did not take the opportunity for a single photograph.  For someone used to straight streets, right-angle intersections, and street signs posted close to the road, it was a real challenge.

But, after three days of driving entirely on my own I made it back to London, without damage and without incident.

I’d love to go back.  It was spectacular trip, but I have no more trips planned.  This year the task is to get back into the Green Truck.


Radiator drain.

Apologies for being uncommunicative.  This fall has been a ceaseless round of obligations.  I’ve had no time at all to work on Green, and really not much time to do much else.  Won’t bore you with those details (partly because they involve planning for a trip to London and Paris–no, not London KY or Paris TN; more on that in a couple of weeks).

One thing was a head-slapper as I worked on disconnecting everything to pull the engine:  “oh yeah–I forgot to drain the radiator.”

So, here is the drain plug.  The white pokey-out thing in the middle seems to be a soft fiberglass of some sort.  It is original and has taken lot of abuse from rocks, alfalfa, orchard grass, sagebrush, and anything else that could get up and bang on the frame.


The plug came out without a hitch–but so did the coolant.  As you can see, I got a shower.


The good news was that I was pleasantly surprised.  The transmission fluid had reverted nearly to tar sand, but the coolant looked clear.  I expected the coolant to match—a viscous sludge, full of rust and other ickiness.


Removing the radiator grille upper and lower baffles.

Pulling the engine requires a lot of advance work.  The shop manual lists the steps, but not piece by piece–just action by action.  Obviously removing the radiator means removing everything in front of it, including the grille and fenders.  So I start here.


When the hood is opened the first thing visible is this nose, the upper grille baffle, a plate that covers the radiator. It probably isn’t absolutely necessary structurally, but as you can see, the hood latch sits in the middle. Its real purpose is to direct air moving from the grill through the radiator just behind it.  There are places for fifteen bolts, but one is missing (not quite visible on steep slope to the left).  Two rubber bumpers (left one missing, the right one is the round black thing on the right) provide shock absorption for the hood as it closes and presumably keep it from rattling too badly when driving.  I don’t remember a time when Green didn’t rattle, so the missing bumper is no loss.

There are at least two different sizes of bolts holding the baffle onto the radiator frame, each with a lock washer.  The ones across the top also hold the clips through which pass the cable of wires for the passenger-side headlamp and running light.  These bolts thread into either a tapped hole in the frame, or if into sheet metal, into a nut that is mounted on the opposite side of the mated piece (don’t have any pictures of those).

Unfortunately, I found out immediately that both bolts in the front corners of the baffle next to the fenders were rusted solidly in place.  The one on the left snapped cleanly with hardly any effort.  Despite a generous helping of WD-40 penetrating oil and smacking the driver’s side one with a drift punch and hammer to loosen things, that head also snapped off with very little effort, leaving me a new project to extract them.  I suspect that they were rusted deeply in place because rainwater and snow-melt would run through here on its gravity-mandated race to the ground.  The other bolts were similarly difficult, but one I got out. The other was also beheaded. Fortunately, I was able to reach a hand through the grille and up under the baffle to get out the bolt body in the image on the right.  It was one of the front just in front of the corner of the latch.

I was a bit surprised to find out that the bolts with smaller heads are in fact sheet-metal screws, which require their own type of nut, a clip which slides onto a punched hole in the body panel’s sheet metal. The clips provide an effective way to anchor the screw and can be replaced without risking damage to the sheet metal itself.


Here is the upper radiator baffle from underneath. Comparing the top image to the one here, it is clear that the hood latch bolts onto the underside of the upper grille baffle.  I’ll deal with that later; it works fine and there is no reason to tear into it.


2017sep09-19You can see that some of the bolts go into the grille frame assembly.  The two support rods were not too much support—neither was bolted onto the bottom baffle.  One had a bolt in place but did not actually go through the hole for it; the other simply didn’t have a bolt, so both were hanging loose.  I was surprised to see that the bolt head had a cast-in part number:  “W1” over a “C”.

So here is the front of Green with the upper grille baffle removed. In the picture above, the lower grille baffle is visible below and in front of the radiator.  It bolts on from the bottom and does not promise too much excitement, so I’ll skip documenting its removal unless something interesting happens in the process.


What I did find, atop the bottom baffle and behind the grille, was a couple handfuls of dirt and decaying plant matter (mostly seeds and leaves from my uncle’s barnyard).  Nostalgia strikes you over the most curious things, in this case it was a handful of dirt.  Some of that grit undoubtedly blew in there while I was driving Green regularly.  It is from the ravine where I used Green to haul sprinkler pipes. It is the blowing dust on the gravel road back from the west fields with a load of baled hay.  It is from the orchard where I loaded crates of apples.  From the north corral where we backed up to the barn to unload into the hay loft.  A few grains are from the small two-car parking lot on the south side of grandma’s house beyond the lawn and hedge, where Green spent most of its time parked, if it wasn’t in the orchard, staring into the sunset.  That is the Great Basin dirt and dust of my childhood and young adulthood.  I am terribly sentimental and it made me think and remember as I was sweeping up—but not so sentimental that I kept it.  There is a limit, y’know, even for me.

2017sep09-20I’m taking Green apart piece by piece, and there are a lot of pieces to keep straight. Just for the record, all of these fasteners, including broken ones, go in groups into one-quart freezer bags.  I write the part name and assembly manual sheet number onto a piece of paper and stick it in there as well so that I can both find them easily and reuse the unmarked bags as the project goes along.  The bagged stuff is stored in the large drawers of the tool cabinet; the larger parts go into the bed of the truck.  Matching parts like the support rods get zip-tied together. And I document everything photographically before it gets removed, so I know what should be there when I try to put back together the puzzle.  Don’t trust my memory.




Decision point—The engine.

A few eager friends have pressured me to put some new oil into the Green Truck, re-mount the generator, patch up the wiring, and fire it up.  Tempting, I’ll admit.  These old motors are simple, tough, and very forgiving.  I’d like to get Green running, but I also want to do it right so as not to cause damage, because I have no idea what sitting motionless for 32 years has done to the components.

So, I have reached a decision:  I have to rebuild the engine.  That will mean pulling it out and taking it completely apart.  For those of you reading the blog, it should be good fun to see if all the parts go together again.

I plan to start a new page on the rebuild cleverly titled “Engine rebuild.”  You’ll see the first entries on it soon.  To get started I borrowed a two-ton mobile engine hoist from a neighbor who has a real auto hoist in his garage.  He hasn’t needed this one in six or seven years and said I could keep it as long as needed.  That sealed the deal for me, so the removal and complete rebuild of the old inline or I-6 “stovebolt” engine will be the subject of the posts through the fall and winter. By spring perhaps the engine will be ready to go back in place. I hope.  My goal is to have Green at least in safe running condition again by the next local auto show.


The first priority as I work will be to produce very complete photodocumentation of just what is connected to what else.  Anything that comes off will be labeled and stored for replacement.  Well, almost everything; eventually the entire electrical harness, the wiring, will have to be replaced.  I am looking for some braided-sleeve reproduction wire suitable to a truck of this type.

So, stay tuned; the fun is just beginning.


Brake master cylinder–IV. Remount

So—the tiny bits of metal, the lock washers, are rather important to keeping the brakes actually on the truck. That’s why the previous post on lock-washer quality was worth the digression.

See, the twin bolts that pass through the body of the master cylinder, through the mount on the frame, and into threaded holes in a bar on the other side, are held tightly in place by a lock washer.  A lock washer, for those who don’t know (or didn’t read the previous post), is essentially a nearly flat spring—a washer with a slit on one side and twisted slightly. When a bolt or nut is cinched down on a lock washer, the spring is pushed flat but pushes back against the head of the bolt to keep tension on it and prevent it loosening from the vibrations incident to driving.


The master cylinder body on the bench, with the mounting bolts and lock washers in place

The other working part is the mounting bar, a simple piece of steel with threaded holes in either end that acts like a double nut.  Normally it would have just gone back on without a second glance, but in cleaning up the pieces after removing the master cylinder body a few months back I noticed that there was something stamped on the outside of the bar.  Aha!  The topic of another blog post!—and then I decided to just put it all together with the master cylinder.

To clean it up I used an old trick from woodworking:  a three-dollar jug of acetic acid—plain white vinegar.  This vinegar, however, I concentrated from 5% acidity to about 12% by simply setting the jug in the deep-freezer.  The water freezes but not the acid, so simply pouring the not-frozen liquid into another container leaves a lattice of ice in the jug.  Once that melts out, the concentrated acid goes back into the vinegar jug—properly marked, of course.

To clear the rust off the base metal I poured a bit onto a paper towel and then set the bar face down on it for about half an hour.  A few quick strokes with the trusty wire brush revealled that the rust is not superficial and wouldn’t come off, despite my clever application of acetic acid.  Oh well.

The stamp is nearly impossible to make out, but across the top of the circle can just be made out “MADE IN USA”.  Right in the center is a four-digit number that I cannot quite read (probably a serial number for the part), and below that “DETROIT”.  I’ll keep looking to see if I can find out what the serial number was.

Re-mounting the brake master cylinder itself was no problem.  Here are shots of the mounting sequence, from cleared location to reattaching the brake line.

However, Green still does not have brakes.  Why?  Because while the cylinder has been rebuilt, the brake pedal has not yet been reattached and of course there is no brake fluid in the line. The rest of the brake system first needs to be checked for leaks, the wheel (slave) cylinders checked and perhaps honed. At least two springs need to be checked and cleaned or replaced. There is still lots to be done, but here is a visual before-and-after comparison.

Things do look a bit better, don’t they?


Brake master cylinder–III. A digression on lock washers.

I almost rolled this post into the remount, but the more I thought about it the more I decided it provided an opportunity to talk about a picky automotive detail that is near and dear to my heart.  Maybe it will do someone good.

Years ago I worked at the only big-box retail store that Anderson Lumber Company ever established.  Anderson was a century-old, family-owned regional business that was finally steamrolled in the corporate retail-chain expansions of the 1990s.  The sixty-location corporation could not compete with the massive national retailers, specifically Home Depot and Lowe’s, nor in the building supply industry niche dominated in the West by Burton Lumber.

Anyway, my job was building materials generally and specifically fasteners—nails, screws, nuts, rivets, washers, and bolts of all types.  I hated the job but actually loved what I handled.  People brought me puzzles all day long and I had a couple of thousand puzzle pieces to choose from.  In the process I learned more about holding things together than most real people can imagine.  That all came back this week as I got ready to re-mount the master cylinder.


The two split washers–one literally split, but both will be replaced

The problem is that when the master cylinder was removed, one of the lock washers came off in pieces and the other one has a stress fracture on one side.  It won’t last. The picture here is from the earlier posting where the the cylinder was removed. I’ve seen and handled a lot of washers in my day, but to my practiced eye I face a replacement problem here.

First some background. Off-the-shelf steel fasteners with imperial dimensions (inches, etc.) like bolts, nuts, and washers, come in three grades. Grade 2 is soft, bolt-your-playhouse-together-quality steel.  It is fine for general construction that will not be subject to much stress or torque.  Grade 5 bolts are made of a much harder steel.  The bolts have three hash marks on the heads and the matching nuts and washers have a different color coating on the steel for visual identification.  These are for installations that take stress regularly, like stationary production machinery.  Grade 8 hardware is of very hard steel made specifically for machinery where failure is disastrous, like automobiles and construction equipment—basically, anything that carries people. Those bolts have six hash marks on the head and usually have an anodic coating to resist corrosion.  You want to mount a snow blade onto the front of your pickup? You use grade-8 bolts and nothing else.

Took a reluctant Son Four with me to experience the thrill of hunting lock washer replacements. None of the auto parts stores carried a washer which matched what came off of Green.  I was afraid of that, but one always asks first.

So from experience I knew I had two options.  The pictures show side and top views of the three 7/16-inch washers together.  On the left and sort of a pale green is a standard grade-8 lock washer, with Green’s original equipment in the center, and a special kind of lock washer called a high collar washer on the right.  There are clear differences and therefore trade-offs in the two options, and that’s really the subject of this post because using the right components—even these two bits of steel—is actually a critical matter and worth the not-original-equipment compromise.

Compared together it is pretty clear that the washers taken off of Green, produced in the 1940s, do not match the industry-standard stuff commercially available today.  The grade-8 washer matches the OD or outside diameter of the original washer, but the material is nowhere near as thick.  The high-collar washer has the thickness of the original, but not the OD to match.  Since there was no way to get a replica of the original, and because Green has existed as a patched-up workhorse anyway, despite my desire to maintain the original equipment, swapping out the washer is appropriate.  I opted for maintaining the OD, which meant a pair of the $0.23 grade-8 washers.  No doubt Grandpa would have done the same.

Sorry for that uninteresting automotive digression; just wanted to show off my extensive working knowledge of picky industrial-standard details.  I’ll say more about lock-washer mechanics in the next post.


Brake master cylinder rebuild–II. Reassembly.

2017apr00-1With the master cylinder bore honed smooth, everything can be put together.  Thankfully, the brakes don’t need a jerry-rig to get back into shape; remarkably, Napa still makes and sells off-the-shelf rebuild kits for brake systems this old.  It was merely a matter of walking up to the counter and placing the order.  Had it in my hands the next morning; gotta love America and mass production—auto parts off the shelf.

Here is the content of the rebuild kit, laid out against the same parts from the disassembled cylinder assembly. To all appearances, the parts are identical.  I was more than a little surprised to note that the primary seal looks like it was even cast on the same mold, so maybe the brakes have been rebuilt at some point in the past more recent than “never.”

All but one of the parts—the spring, into which the valve assembly snaps—have a replacement part.  As mentioned, I want to use original equipment, reconditioning it if necessary, so the secondary seal came off the new piston and was put onto the original that I removed.  The old valve assembly snaps out of the spring and the new one snapped right into place.  One that was in place the innards were assembled as shown in the images.

Keep in mind that the piston and seals don’t just drop in place; they have to be pushed because they fit tightly into the bore.

Once the piston, seals, spring, and valve are in place the challenge becomes assembling the mechanical linkage. The pushrod assembly has a plate at one end that seals off the mechanical end of the master cylinder. The pushrod itself has an acorn head that engages the cupped end of the piston with the secondary seal.  Because the two pieces are not threaded or locked, the pushrod can turn and moves at a slight angle when the brake is engaged. That freedom of movement allows the pushrod to be turned with the knurled nut on the shaft allow it to be threaded into the fork on the brake shaft (today we’d probably just make the shaft hexagonal for a wrench). The boot threads over the knurled nut on the pushrod.  The round plate on the assembly fits into the end of the brake cylinder.  The snap ring holds it in place, and then the boot covers everything.  Won’t say how many times I took it apart because I missed something.

So here are before and after shots of the brake master cylinder, both taken as if looking at it from the driver’s side.  The plunger at the left is the link to the brake pedal (the fork visible in the “before” picture got removed and put back onto Green so I didn’t lose it).  The brake line itself threads into the cap on the right end.

Here is a section of the complete assembly from the shop manual, shown in working order for context.


And that’s that.  Ready to go back onto the Green Truck.

Brake master cylinder rebuild–I. Honing.

Thanks to my patient reader (notice the use of the singular noun there) for not removing The Green Truck from your blog roll, despite the lag in substance this spring.  If there are more than one of you out there, well, great.  Hopefully action on the blog will pick up again.  This is a good place to start.

I talked about removing and disassembling the brake master cylinder in an earlier post.  This one continues the process in two parts:  the first one on reconditioning the bore, and a second one on reassembling the master cylinder (and hoping it is in working order).

Green rarely had servicing and what was services used to be fixed with baling wire (and yes, there are still pieces to be seen holding this or that together).  I’ve mentioned that there are absolutely no brakes–not a drop of brake fluid to be found in the lines.   Brakes are high on the list of necessaries on an automobile, so obviously something needed to be done.  I’ve been trying to find time to do this for six weeks, but I came home an hour early on a Friday afternoon and press-ganged Son Four into acting as a photographer so that I could document the work.

The bore of a brake master cylinder is normally smooth.  As you can see (below), the cylinder walls from Green’s cylinder are hardly smooth any more.  What has happened is that over time a tiny bit of moisture in the line has pitted the steel sides. That rust creates depressions that allows brake fluid to leak past the primary seal.  Pushing on the brake pedal becomes less effective because the hydraulics are compromised and don’t transfer the force effectively to the brake cylinders in the wheels.


Pitting in the bore.

The brakes were failing as I drove Green in high school in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Thirty-five years of sitting in a field hasn’t helped.  To again function correctly the cylinder bore has to be smoothed out or replaced entirely.  Since I am trying to keep the original equipment on Green, the available options were fairly direct–the cylinder has to be honed smooth. Honing a cylinder is technologically simple but requires a specialized tool that would be used once and never again.  I still bought one.

A hone is nothing more than a trio of small grinding stones set on springs at the end of a shaft. Having three spring-loaded stones keeps them centered evenly against the bore walls as the shaft turns.

The challenge of honing a bore is to stay within tolerances:  just enough steel has to be removed to level the pits, but not so much that the primary and secondary seals no longer fit tightly.  After doing some exploring, the folks who have done this say that one aims at taking off no more than 0.004 of an inch, which enlarges the bore by twice that figure or 0.008 inches, because there is a bore wall on the opposite side as well.

Notice that the hone fits into a standard drill.  I could have maybe used a hand-operated eggbeater drill, but that would have been difficult to both hold and operate effectively.  As it was, I had to use both hands and compromised on the setup–I was supposed to use solvent to flush away the particulates from the grinding and prevent oxidation, but I followed DIY advice to use hot water, since I don’t have a shop solvent fountain.  Son Four did a thirty-second video of the hone in action, but my WordPress subscription does not allow me to post video files, so here are a couple of stills that show how it works.


After the bore was honed and while it was still wet, the cylinder went into the oven to dry it out quickly.  As it was there was still a film of oxidation (rust), which I wiped out first with a shop towel and then a bit of brake fluid to coat the steel and keep it from oxidizing again.


As you can see in comparing the two images, there are still a few shallow pits, but conventional wisdom is that something that small probably won’t affect the breaks much because the primary seal should be flexible enough to ride through them.

So, now all that needs to happen is to put everything back together.


Ok–so we’re back from the China trip, Scout camp, and as of yesterday I am back from the week-long RBMS conference at Iowa City.  I am ready for a rest and to get back to The Green Truck.

Or not.

After a lot of thought I’ve decided that the motor really needs to be overhauled before I tackle most of the body work.  To do that properly will require an engine hoist and stand, plus some disposable income and time.  I’ll have to pull off the hood, fenders, and cooling system to get at the motor mounts in the workspace I have.  I’ll need to build the special hoist frame required for the stovebolt motor.  I’ll have to replace the wiring completely so the motor will run properly from the cab, which means new fuses and probably gauges.

So, this may take awhile–but hey, its a DIY learning experience, and there are no time limits on that.


China, from my perspective.

Well, we’re back from China.  Before I go back to Green, let me give at least a quick impression of my experiences in the most populous country on earth.

My long-held impression of modern China came from an old twelve-part PBS documentary of the 1980s called Heart of the Dragon, one of the first extended views into post-Mao China afforded westerners. It certainly captured my attention and shaped the experience I expected. Won’t say I was disappointed, but I will say I found something very out of my ordinary.

What I found was a country thoroughly commercialized, albeit in a different form than the American version of drive-up windows, franchises, and corporate empires.  There are millions of street-level small businesses tucked into every building, some only a few feet deep or wide.  The cities are full of Western brands and particularly luxury goods.  Since this is an automotive blog I could not miss photographing the one mechanic’s place I saw.  Even fueling stations were rather uncommon.

Truthfully, I expected to see reproductions of the old American vehicles copied for decades by Chinese factories.  They had done that for decades, but nope–not a one.  Mercedes, Buick, Hyundai, Russian, and Chinese knock-offs were everywhere.  Every street and intersection was filled bumper to bumper.  Traffic was a much more intimate experience than I am used to. The streets are filled with sedans.  SUVs are popular, but I saw not a single pickup truck during our 10 days in the country.  I expected to see streets full of cyclists.  There were lots, but many were riding rentals.  I saw not a single Mao Jacket, though I looked constantly.

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The first billboard we saw leaving the airport–was for the Green Truck’s distant cousin from the Chevrolet family.

Shanghai (our first stop) is a city of 25 million people, better than twice the population, area, and density of the Chicago metro area, and China is modernizing quickly–very quickly.  Shanghai is filled with 30-story apartment blocks everywhere and many, many more going up.  In a single development by the Hangzhou airport (second stop) I counted no fewer than 36 gantry cranes, and it was one of dozens being built.  This is why concrete and diesel prices are skyrocketing in the US–the real market is China.  In most cities there are still pockets of old neighborhoods, warrens of narrow alleys and walkways (two were visible from our hotel room) capped with terra cotta tiles of that distinct, ribbed Oriental look, but they are being replaced as quickly as construction can manage. From what I hear, the old buildings are not mourned:  they have neither kitchen nor restroom facilities–they are the Chinese equivalent of tenements.

Of course I have to say something about food, which was terrific. We did not get an opportunity to eat as often on the street as I would have liked (and we were strongly advised against doing so, anyway).  I did try chunks of jackfruit, hawked off the back of a motorbike, and we had noodles for lunch one day in the walk-up place outside our hotel in Xi’an (third stop).  As a rule, we didn’t get much of a chance. We were feted afternoon and evening.  It was a wonder I did not gain 30 pounds.

This image was taken at about the middle of the meal. By the time we were done I counted nineteen different dishes on the table.  I am grateful I took time to learn to eat effectively with chopsticks as a teen.  They expected it from Dear–she had lived in Taiwan; how well I was did was noticed more than once–even with noodles.

A few more pix than the ones shown here appear on my Facebook page, and the return flight is a tale in itself.  I have hundreds more photos and could have taken millions without really documenting China.  Dear and I had a very good time, but China is changing so rapidly that if we ever have a chance to go back, China will already be different.